Tips and suggestions for using IT in the ESOL classroom.
IT skills have become essential in many countries, and people who do not know how to operate computers effectively are narrowing their employment opportunities as well as missing out on methods of communication and media. The same can also be said for ESOL/ ESL students. Whether your school/students have access to tablets/iPads, laptops or PCs, a rudimentary knowledge of IT will help them with their lives in countries where technology is a basic part of everyday living.
Students who have never used a computer before
Some ESOL/ESL students might never have used a computer before, and older students might find it particularly daunting. It’s a good idea, therefore, to run through computer vocab before they start and discuss what the terms are used for and how they can help students. Don’t expect students with a basic knowledge of IT to pick up everything quickly; they might have difficulties, for example, with using the mouse, forming capitals or using punctuation. On the internet they may have problems with typing in addresses and basic windows management. Take things slowly and set yourself one goal each lesson, such as opening and closing a window or forming capitals. Get students to gather round one machine while you show them how to do certain tasks and have a few individuals practise in front of the group.
If you have access to tablets or iPads, these can be an easy and intuitive way to get students familiar with technoogy. Getting students to use their fingers to touch the screen, scroll, swipe and open apps is a useful skill in an age of smart phones and smart-screen technology. However, students who have never used such devices before may be unfamiliar with how hard (or soft) to tap, and how many times; as with everything, practice is key. Once students are comfortable with using touchscreens, they can be directed to apps that can help them practice their English. Take a look in the App Store or Google Play, to find ones which suit your students.
Help with writing
Using a keyboard can help motivate students to write. Students unfamiliar with English script, who have difficulty forming letters and using capitals, might find copying something on a computer useful – you could use a simple text from the beginner EFL/ESL section or an easy text that they have written. Printing these texts out and sticking them on the classroom wall will also boost morale. Paste the student’s photo onto the work. It makes the classroom look better and gets students involved with their own learning.
Microsoft Word has lots of features to help with writing. You could make a calendar, a newsletter, a CV, a business card, a menu, a poster (No Smoking, Only Speak English, Switch Off Your Mobile, etc) or a simple letter.
Use Gmail to get a free email addresses, but make sure you guide students through the set up process or, better still, do it for them. Email accounts are easy to use but can seem complex to make to the beginner. Once students have an account, there are lots of activities they can do. They can sign up for information about jobs (www.monster.co.uk) and send greeting cards (www.americangreetings.com). They can also write to you or other teachers about anything they want. Try asking them if they like the city they live in or how many brothers and sisters they have. Keep the emails short and use a large font so that they can read them easily.
Websites with listening materials
There are some very good, free, activities available at Randall’s Cyber Lab (www.esl-lab.com). The BBC also has lots of good activities on its EFL (www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish) and also some listening tasks on its basic skills site (www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/words/listening) which are also worth doing with ESOL students. For more advanced students, there are some thought-provoking and interesting documentaries available at storycorps.org.
You might also like to download some movies to use with your class: www.filmeducation.org offers clips and trailers of films and worksheets, although these are aimed more at native speakers. Adverts from TV are small and packed full of images – you can download some from YouTube. Also keep your eye on the BBC in general (www.bbc.co.uk) who have a lot of interviews and soundbites to keep students happy.
There are hundreds of research tasks you can get students to do on the internet. Students can find out the local or international weather, (www.bbc.co.uk/weather) find a business or person in the yellow pages (www.yell.com), find a job (www.monster.co.uk), look at maps (www.google.co.uk/maps) or go shopping online (www.asda.co.uk; www.tesco.co.uk). In fact you can ask students to find out about any information using search engines (www.yahoo.com; www.google.com).
You could ask students to find out information about a famous person they admire and write a biography about them (www.biography.com). They could also put together some information on a country they would like to visit or their own country. Students love to see pictures of their own town or city – try typing it in the image search section of www.google.com. Failing that there are some great Webquests available; try the Webquests here, although students need to be at least Entry 3 to attempt these and quite computer literate.
I’m the teacher, but I don’t know much about IT!
Join the club! You are not teaching complex IT skills to groups of technological whiz kids, and although students may see you as the computer specialist it’s important to remind them that it is an ESOL/ESL class. Students need basic computer skills to use an amazing resource, but they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop. Students who are more advanced can be directed to other IT classes.
Working with IT can be very frustrating when machines or software don’t work, and you can never plan for such problems. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. Computers only do what they are told to do; often breakdowns are due to human error. A good fallback for updating your own IT skills in a particular area is YouTube. Here lots of video tutorials on many subjects can be found, guiding you through – for example – different aspects of PhotoShop.
Foreign language web sites
ESOL/ESL students might want to use IT to contact people in their own country or just to read the newspaper. The BBC has the news in 43 languages (www.bbc.co.uk/ws/languages). Students who are very homesick can even watch a TV station from their country (www.wwitv.com).